I crossed the border into Canada, today. Barely.
I spent two hours being intensively interviewed by a Canadian border official. It turned out that they had decided I was an "immigration risk." Yes, that was the term used.
I was meticulously honest about my life. I prefer to operate that way, with officialdom. But I could offer "no fixed US address," I had a passport full exotic stamps, no "proof of current employment," a truck full of "junk" (things I've been carrying around with me to sort through along with some books I collected in Arcata), and, probably most alarmingly, a bumper sticker reading "migration is a human right" (yes, I really believe this, and I've written about it before in my blog).
The potentially offending sentiment:
I really didn't think about these things. I've entered Canada so many times, in life, and they've almost always hassled me about one thing or another (always very politely, as that's the Canadian way), but in the past it was always because they were worried about drugs or some kind of customs-related thing. Or who knows.
In fact, I've probably crossed at the I-29/MB75 crossing at least six times. And I've done my recent travels in Asia and to Australia last year utterly effortlessly, when it came to border crossings. Japan to Korea by boat was easier than England to France — they asked me no questions, despite the fact that I'd prepared a complicated explanation for returning as a tourist only 10 days after the expiration of my work visa, which I was worried would raise alarm bells.
Well, so… anyway. The Canadians didn't want me to immigrate. The man was very nice, but very firm, and I was deferential and scrupulously honest. He wrote it all down — I'm thinking of going back and offering him a job as my ghost writer for my autobiography, because he really got quite detailed. "You have to see it from my point of view," he said, and I nodded sagely.
I offered to go online and show them receipts from my storage unit in Minneapolis, the ticket back to Korea that I'd recently paid for, this blog, even, where they could spend time reading about my vacillations about future plans over the past year or so, but could clearly discover that immigrating to Canada was NOT one of the many options I'd been contemplating.
But they strongly resisted the idea that I lived my life "online," and they couldn't seem to understand that I didn't carry paper copies of these things. I finally sighed, and said, "well, I guess it's not that important to visit my friend in Winnipeg, it was a kind of spontaneous, impulsive decision, anyway. How about I just turn around and go back into the US?"
The friendly Canadian went off to have a "little meeting" with some of his coworkers, or supervisor, or something. Or maybe he googled me — that's what I would have done, maybe. To try to check me out.
I sat and pondered what would end up happening if I turned around and then had to pass through US border controls. The US people are always hard-asses anyway, and much less polite than the Canadians, and I began to visualize trying to explain to them that the Canadians had rejected me. That would, of course, set off alarm bells with the Americans. I started developing a little scenario where I lived out some weeks or months in my little truck, parked in the no-man's land between the Canadian and US border control stations on the Manitoba / North Dakota border, because neither country would let me in.
And then the big, burly, boy-scout-freckled Canadian waved me over and said, very seriously, "we've decided we trust you. I'm giving you a one month visa." And he stamped my passport. And then proceeded to try to convince me to stay more than just one night in Winnipeg, which is what I'd told him my plans were, because, after all, he said, "there's a lot of fun things to do in Winnipeg." Really. He said this.
And then, like a latter-day Colombo (70's TV police drama), he held up a finger and said, "Just one more question."
I smiled, "Sure, anything."
"Why was it, again, that you said you had all this stuff in your truck?"
Here we go again, I thought. I began to give, with more detail than before, the story of how I had landed at Minneapolis, and preliminary to driving to California, I had collected some boxes of stuff to "sort through" on my travels. He said OK, but nodded skeptically.
I shook his hand, went back out to my truck, and drove away from the setting prairie sun, toward Winnipeg.
My friend Gerry said that, on the contrary, it wasn't the bumper sticker that freaked them out; it was the laundry basket! "People don't travel with laundry baskets. Only people who are moving carry laundry baskets." Hmm… is this a Canadian proverb?